Saturday, March 17, 2012

Osteria Rocco

We went to Osteria Rocco, better known as just Rocco, for the first time this week for my husband's birthday--both zipping in from other ends of the city to try to catch dinner before heading to the movies.  Which is why I'll begin with a complaint:  I hate places that don't offer parking.  If we lived in NYC or Chicago, I'd get it.  But, ROC might as well be LA given how car-dependent this city is.  Seriously.  So, I had to park about 3 blocks away, and he parked in the "illegal" lot next door in order to make the reservation, and then moved his car after ordering.  Not fun.

Getting that out of the way, it turned out that coming directly from work left us a bit overdressed for Rocco.  Other diners were in t-shirts and jeans and the waitstaff sported many tattoos and very casual clothes (tank tops, gauze skirts, army shorts).  As a result, the restaurant has a hipster vibe, but it doesn't seem able to realize it completely (e.g., the ceiling is tin, but the floor is carpeted rather than retro-tiled).  The dining room is quite small, with close set tables and little room for servers to move without bumping diners.  And, because there's really no place for them to retreat to, servers almost appear to "stand guard" along the back wall when they're not in motion.  The next set of diners sort of lurks in the dining room doorway, too, which sends a message that doesn't really suggest you should linger.

We started with the fried risotto fritters with tomato sauce.  They were delicious!  About the size of large meatballs, they offered a crispy crust and tender risotto insides nestled in a tangy tomato sauce.  We moved on to a shared salad: endive (fresh and cut in rings), apples (too few), walnuts, gorgonzola  and cider vinegar (really sharp and acidic).  The salad was huge, perfectly sized to share.  My one critique is that the dressing would have been perfect had there been more apples--the acidity would have balanced the sweet.  But, without more apples or maybe some sugaring or salt crust on the walnuts, the balance was off.

We each ordered a special.  My husband ordered lamb sausage over greens and beans.  The sausage was homemade; it was rather rustic in texture and fairly peppery.  He enjoyed the whole dish.  I ordered skewers of mushrooms and chicken over a bed of baby spinach and raisins in a balsamic vinaigrette, served with fried polenta.  The mushrooms and chicken were fine but lacked much seasoning.  The polenta was plentiful and had a great crust to it while being moist and soft inside.  The raisins did very well in the dressing, which was--again--a bit too vinegary for my taste and overwhelmed the baby spinach.

Overall, I think we both expected to like Rocco better than we did.  On paper, it seems like the exact kind of place we have loved in other cities.  I'd be willing to go back and try a pasta dish and give it a second chance, and my husband liked his sausage so he's in for another go, too.

PS: Good news ... we both liked the movie!

Plum Garden

You go to Plum Garden because it's a hibachi restaurant.  You go to celebrate special occasions.  You go to watch personable yet somewhat frightening chefs throw and clank their knives; make fiery onion volcanos and flaming shrimp rockets; and throw tiny little balls of rice that you catch in your mouth to great applause (unless you're me, in which case you catch them with your face, hair, glasses, sweater, or floor to multiple sighs).  That's what you're paying for, and you expect the food to be passable.  But, I'm happy to report that at Plum Garden, most of it is actually quite tasty.

My kids LOVE Plum Garden.  They would go every week if they could.  They love the spectacle.  It makes them scream with laughter, awe, and delight.  And, they love the food.  They eat heaping bowls of fried rice, plates full of chicken and sukiyaki steak, and even a few veggies.  Change that last line to "a lot" of veggies, and we're right there with them.

Each meal at Plum Garden starts with some non-standard "Japanese" pre-courses:  an iceberg salad with ginger dressing and a miso onion soup.  The former is not especially tasty, but the latter is decent enough, with some mushrooms thrown in.  From this starter course, a theme at Plum Garden emerges:  you get a lot of food.  The salad is bigger than you might expect as is the soup.  You're paying for the show, but you'll leave with leftovers.

We all have set orders now.  My children order off the less expensive kids' menu which offers slightly smaller portions and comes with just one starter but adds in vanilla ice cream or rainbow sherbet (yep, it's still around!) for dessert.  My son goes for the chicken; my daughter, the sukiyaki steak (thinner cut).

My husband goes for a combo: steak and chicken.  I'm a sukiyaki steak-only girl:  it's not just cheaper, I think the thinner cut works better on the grill, turning out tender and flavorful.

All meals come with about 9 pounds of highly addictive fried rice made in a magnificent show involving disappearing eggs, gravity defying yolks, and spinning shells.  The result is sprinkled with sesame seeds and can be eaten for weeks if you can stop yourself at the table.  Seriously, I don't know what they put in this, but it is clearly some controlled substance--go ahead, try to put down your chopsticks.  Each meal also comes with mounds of veggies, two sauces (dark ginger and hot mustard), some shrimp, and the infamous onion volcano.  

It all adds up to great kitschy food theatre that, like the rainbow sherbet, seems to have come from a simpler era.  See you at the hibachi :)

Tony D's

I finished up a meeting downtown around dinner time, and the kids were at dance classes, so I swung around and picked up my husband for a quick dinner before he headed back to work.  (Sidebar: we both work too much--big surprise.)

We decided to go to Tony D's.  He had never been.  I'd been several times for lunch meetings and had liked it.  I still think it's a great lunch place--especially for a great pizza with slices left for late work night snacking.  Maybe not so much for dinner.  It's not that it was bad--because it wasn't.  I would call Tony D's a good fall-back restaurant: a place where everyone could find something but no one would go home raving about a dish they'll never forget.  Judging from the crazy crowd at the bar, I'm also guessing the folks who come in the evenings are largely more social networkers than foodies.

We started with wings, which are not your typical buffalo wings.  They're oven roasted and topped with delicious caramelized onions and served over some very tasty, toasted foccacia.  I'd call them the highlight of the meal, and given how quickly they disappeared, my husband would agree.  We also split a Caesar salad, which was large, well chilled and good.

The daily special was eggplant parmesan--one of my favorites.  But, sadly, this won't be making my eggplant parm top ten.  The sauce was good, and the serving was definitely more-than-full size, perfect for sharing.  But, the eggplant got a bit lost in the breading, and the mile high approach crafting the dish (it likely stood 4-6 inches high) really does not serve what is a fairly delicate vegetable.  So, it was more mushy than it should have been.  Again, it wasn't bad, it was just okay.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the tiramisu.  I'm a tiramisu snob and make a pretty delicious one myself, and theirs (while offering a lovely presentation) was not good.

While the food average, I have to give full credit to the service.  It was fantastic:  Ia gracious, friendly server; water that was never empty; diet coke refills that appeared without mention; extra plates offered.  And, truly, sometimes at the end of the day, that's really what you want--someone to be nice to you, feed you, and offer you a lovely waterfront view.


We went to Haveli Indian Cuisine because we had an expiring Groupon--how many restaurant stories begin that way today?  Probably too many.  Haveli is part of what I'm coming to think of as East Henrietta International Row on which you'll find multiple restaurants from India, Thailand, the Dominican Republic ... and Jimmy John's.  (One of these things ....)

I picked up the kids from Y-care after a school half day.  That's code for: they were exhausted from chasing each other around the gym like screaming banshees for the entire afternoon.  My goal was simple:  "Come on guys, we'll just run a few errands and then meet up with dad for dinner.  Come on, you can do it."  But ... when I pulled up in front of Marshall's to zip in for a few things, one glance in the rear view mirror at their slumping bodies told me they truly could not do it  So, I headed for Haveli to sit in the parking lot for the next hour, cycling the heat on and off, while I listened to Wings, signed about 100 letters, and returned some emails.  When I woke them up they were "so cold, mom!," "going to die if [they] didn't eat," and "having the worst headache EVER."  Great start.

Once inside Haveli, it wasn't looking up.  The restaurant really overdoes the incense--or as my son put it, "this place smells."  But, each booth but one was already full at 6 pm, which seemed a good sign.  The kids lolled listlessly in their seats, alternately complaining bitterly about everything and providing snarky commentary on the more-than-bizarre set of Indian music videos which seemed linked by a narrative thread that was eluding us.  We needed emergency appetizers, stat!

Have you got kids?  If so, your perfect Indian appetizer is Chicken Pakora--basically Indian-style chicken nuggets.  We ordered those, some samosas (again, kid-friendly fried things filled with potatoes & peas), and garlic naan (which, for their true happiness, really needs to be served AYCE style).  Within 15 minutes, both daughter and son were back in fine form, smiling with restored color and vitality, all physical maladies mysteriously cured.  So, by the time their dad showed up, the table was ready to rock.

For dinner, we ordered more garlic naan (see above).  My son got his usual--tandoori chicken.  Haveli's is deliciously moist with a delicate hint of yogurty-curried BBQ.  He ate 2 and a half pieces!  My daughter got her usual--chicken tikka masala, mild.  I would describe Haveli's chicken tikka as being more like butter chicken with a very creamy tomato curry base--which is not to say it wasn't delicious.  It was!  And their mild is really mild, just perfect for her.

My husband and I decided to split two dishes:  chicken palak and baingan bharta.  The chicken was cooked with fresh spinach, garlic, gingers, tomatoes and onion.  It was quite light on the tomatoes and heavy on the spinach, which really worked for us, and the mild seasoning in this dish was noticeably deeper than on the tikka.  It was a great, warming meal that didn't feel overly heavy.   The bharta was eggplant sauteed with fresh tomatoes (again, light) and peas--then baked.  It was medium and added a richer warmth and taste to the meal, and I was impressed by how pert the peas were--still with a bit of a "burst" when bitten.  Super yummy when combined with the palak.  And, of course, it isn't our table at an Indian restaurant without raita!  Haveli's includes tomatoes, which tasted delicious in the yogurt base.  The rice was fab, too!

A final note on the incense smell: I suggested to my children when we were seated to "give it 10 minutes and you won't even notice it anymore."  And, sure enough, once again, mom is a psychic genius--look, I take the wins where I get them!

We'd definitely go back to Haveli--weird videos and all!